Possibilities in times of Black genocide

Catching Hell in the City of Angeles: Life and Meanings of Blackness in South Central Los Angeles demonstrates how different “modalities” of Blackness operate as political-epistemological orientations or positionalities with radical and perhaps revolutionary (using Joy James’ definitions) possibilities. Or, to use Costa Vargas’ own words, “the very contradictory natures of [B]lackness show that, if an ethical commitment to liberatory politics is the energizer of self-making, [B]lackness is absolutely necessary as a source of knowledge of the social world, survival, resistance, and community maintenance” (p. 216; italics in original).

In relation to the objectives of this course, I found Costa Vargas’ text particularly insightful as an example of how to write a compelling ethnography that both “hooks” the reader so-to-speak and generates theoretical incitements, while suggesting openings for (re)imagining our future. Costa Vargas also reiterates several of the themes from our reading on activist-scholarship – notions of reciprocity, humility, accountability, and so forth. His particular ethnographic techniques were not as transparent in the text. How, for example, did he learn to take ethnographic field notes? What does his writing process look like? How did he inform Shannon, Vivian, Kody, and so on that he was going to write about their everyday struggles and negotiations in the face of premature death/Black genocide?

In relation to my own work, I thought the text actually provided, albeit unnamed as such, examples of alternative security projects (the gang truce; community run police) based on the lived experiences of communities threatened by genocide – the police, and social workers for that matter, clearly exacerbated rather than contributed to a sense of security among residents. The intense occupation, but also abandonment of the state, to use Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s framing, forces South Central residents to generate a sense, however tenuous, of security (in this case primarily physical/emotional and to a certain degree economic) outside of or in opposition to the state.


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